Masters of Sabi

stronger today
than yesterday
street urine smell

 Kathy Watts

waiting in line
amazing how much people
have to say

Kathy Watts

  Kathy Watts has written short poetry and astrology for a long time now. See her chapbook In the Mountains of the Moon for some of her haiku history. Thank you, Nun Prophet Press! For astrology, see Heads Up Astrology on Facebook. She lives on the Left Coast of the United States with her husband, spinning wheel, and teapot. When possible, she avoids people but it’s hard.


 Classical haikai distinguished itself from the stuffy court traditions, grandiloquent language and exalted subject matter of traditional waka, focusing on more immediate, proletarian concerns, down to earth imagery and content from early haiku into evolving senryu mise-en-scène. One way this manifested itself was in sensory details, which often included earthy, indecorous descriptions spanning a broad spectrum, from bodily humor to body horror. Scholars will be reminded of the memorable poem shared by William Higginson in his Haiku Handbook of Taneda Santōka’s, ‘taking a leisurely pee / in lush sprouting grass’. On a social scale the streets running yellow and brown recall the messy thoroughfares of Western frontiers at the edge of ostensible civilization, or could describe a total degradation and disintegration of infrastructure, at the opposite end of the spectrum from Roman aqueducts or latrines, and the electronic talking toilets of modern Japan. Another translation for sabi which may be applied appropriately and consistently across this showcase is ‘solitude’. Indeed, the odor described has the most visceral connotations echoing man’s isolation from his fellows, and being spiritually forsaken by the universe. Beyond just the realm of destitution and neglect, this hearkens across our lifespans from the shame of diapers and bedwetting, struggles at potty training of infancy to the incontinence of senility; the stench is also familiarly associated with accompanying grave illness and institutional settings. There is moreover something so Zen about setting her other micro poem in the supermarket queue, our contemporary breadline, which strikingly captures the Kafkaesque modern alienation of humans, even in the most densely crowded areas. Carl Jung once expounded upon how ‘loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.’  Similarly, there is an astute observation in remarking the sabi and kidai in meaningless banter, not unlike a shedding of skin or blood, the dispersion of personality and individuality into overlapping chatter, our prevailing babble of public discourse.  As William Shakespeare reminds, ‘words are but wind’, and the flood of unmoderated prattle certainly evokes Autumn, can be as readily recognized too across social media and the blogosphere where diatribes from constructive to noxious proliferate indiscriminately, introducing significant complexity to the seeker’s struggle to grasp consensus and locate needles of truth amidst veritable ziggurat haystacks of our our information age. 

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